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Wassail is a hot, spiced punch often associated with winter celebrations of northern Europe, usually those connected with the Christmas holiday such as Christmas, New Year's and Twelfth Night. Particularly popular in Germanic countries, the term itself is a contraction of the Old English toast ws u hl, or "be thou hale!" (i.e., "be in good health"). Alternate expressions predating the term, with approximately the same meaning, include both the Old Norse ves heill and Old English wes hl.



While the beverage typically served as "wassail" at modern holiday feasts with a medieval theme most closely resembles mulled cider, historical wassail was completely different, more likely to be mulled beer. Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops. Hence the first stanza of the traditional carol the Gloucestershire Wassail dating back to the Middle Ages:

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.


Recipes vary, but usually call for a base of either wine or fruit juices (apple being popular) simmered with mulling spices, possibly fortified with spirits such as brandy. Orange slices might be added to the mixture. (In northern Europe, oranges once enjoyed the status of a novelty Christmas fruit. As oranges come into season in the winter, in pre-refrigeration days that might be the only time of year that they were available to cold climates -- provided they survived shipment from the warmer countries in which they were grown.)

Other uses and similarities

  • Wassail is very similar to a Roman winter beverage called calda which, according to the recipes of Apicius, consisted of wine cut with water, then heated, sweetened with honey, and flavored with aromatic spices. (Many Christmas traditions actually derive from those of the Roman festival of Saturnalia, so a connection between the two is possible.)
  • Today, many microbreweries produce a beverage very similar to wassail spiced beer during the winter months.
  • A Wassail is traditional ceremony carried out to ensure a good crop of cider apples for the coming harvest. See wassailing.
  • Wassail or ws u hl is a greeting often used by Neopagans to avoid saying anything Christian. It can be used as a form of farewell and greeting. It can be used at any time of the year or day and is not required that it is related to toasting. The belief that it is only done in respect to apples comes form Fraser's The Golden Bough in which the custom is mentioned. As this practice has been revived -- ironically -- by churches, Mummers, and Morris troupes, many non-pagans have come across the term.
  • In the modern day, Wassail is most commonly recognized as an obscure reference in various traditional Christmas carols: "Wassail, wassail all over the town," for example, or "Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green". Wassail-themed songs were once sung by winter carollers who went from house to house, singing to the residents in exchange for small gifts of money, food and drink (often wassail.)

External links

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Christmas Guide, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.